Journey to the Magic Kingdom

by Randy Fong

When I was nine years old, we went on my one and only family vacation to Disneyland. That was more than thirty years ago. None of it would have been possible if Ruby Fong didn't possess the physcial strength and the will power to take her kids on such a grand, fun-filled journey. The memories of this era are still fresh in my mind.

Ruby and her eight kids drove 400 miles in a Chevy stationwagon

Outwardly, it appears to be a typical family vacation. Mom and Dad are up late the night before huddled around the big dining room table discussing final preparations. Very early the next morning all ten of us, Mom, Dad, Curtis, Mira, Dougie, Johnny, Randy, Jamie, Kookie, and Teddy, pile into our large green Chevy station wagon, three in the front, four in the back, one in the slot, and two in the very back. The car is packed to the gills and filled with childlike anticipation. This is no ordinary vacation. We are going to Disneyland.

For as long as I can remember a family vacation only meant mom packing up eight kids and driving to the family cabin at Lake Tahoe for the weekend without Dad. If and when Dad came with us (he normally worked seven days a week), it was usually later via the Greyhound Bus. What I considered a real vacation, like to Disneyland, was only a dream. Disneyland was a place that other kids got to visit, a place I knew very little about. For me it was merely an image of the Magical Kingdom graced by Tinkerbell shown during the Walt Disney hour on TV every Sunday night at eight. But I certainly knew enough to know it was special.

Somehow good fortune stared us in the face. Dad is a well respected and prominent physician. A man has a heart attack. Dad cares for him. As luck would have it, the man is the vice-president of Disneyland. So here we are now jammed into our family wagon destination Anaheim with a fistful of free "E" tickets. The car is crowded, but it seems not too crowded. The car has no air-conditioning, but the heat doesn't bother us. We had to wake up early this morning, but no one is tired. And after a long eight hour drive, Matterhorn mountain appears suddenly off in the horizon. A shock wave sweeps through the car. Our hearts jump into our throats. We are eight completely electrified kids crammed into that wagon. The sign on top the building reads "Disneyland Hotel." We have arrived.

Ten of us stay in two hotel rooms. Mom assigns us three to a bed. Thoughts of having to sleep never crossed our minds. We don our swim suits and head off to check out the three swimming pools, a first rate toy store, and a monorail that drops you off right next to the submarine ride. It is over kill, and we love it. Mom announces we will be dining at one of the fine hotel restaurants that night. We have to dress up, she emphasis how fancy the restaurant is, and forces us to be on our best behavior. We have no reason not to comply with her wishes. Deep inside we all know this is not the usual "Okie Friojle" or "Perry Boy Smorgy."

Eight crazed kids varying in age from very young to early teens go to the park for the first time the evening after our first "hotel" dinner. In those days parents did not keep as close an eye on their kids. Mom and Dad simply turn us loose. Off we go to explore and immerse ourselves with the Disneyland experience from our own individual grasp and level.

Mira is a saint. She spends her time looking after Johnny, Jamie, and me (the middle kids). She starts us out on It's a Small World and the Submarine. Then she explains Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and we go on it. Mira knows we are tentative. She patiently builds our confidence. Eventually, we work our way up to Peter Pan and the Tea Cups. In just two short days we will be riding the Matterhorn.

Curtis is fixated on the Autopia. Every time I see Curt he would say, "Randy, you got to drive the cars on the Autopia." He does not know I am afraid, nor do I tell him. The cars are big, and they make these loud popping noises. I am also certain my foot will not reach the gas pedal. I observe that the cars are not spaced on a chain and that the car behind would probably ram me off the course. The Autopia is for big kids. I am a little kid. Curtis suggested I ride the Autopia on at least ten separate occasions. I am too scared.

It's a Fong invasion. We can be seen and heard everywhere. I'm in a car exiting out of Alice in Wonderland, and I hear Kookie's high shrill voice from somewhere in the park saying, "I want to go on Dumbo again." And whenever we pass it, you can look up to see Kookie riding Dumbo or at least standing in line. The same could be said of Curtis and the Matterhorn. When he is not driving on the Autopia, he can be found riding the Matterhorn over and over again. Curtis is the analytical type. With each trip into the mountain he analyzes the differences between the right track and the left track intently trying to determine which one is the better ride.

Oh, what to buy? The question beckons the entire time. I have to buy something, and it must be special. Whatever it is, I know I will not decide until almost the last day. We spend time combing through every toy store and souvenir shop the park and hotel has to offer. Whenever possible, I go with Dougie. Dougie is older, and he knows what store sells what toy and for how much. Dougie buys this magnifying glass. He shows it to me and teaches me how it to burn a hole through paper. My twin brother Johnny buys a flashlight. It is the size of a Pez candy dispenser without the head. The flashlight had a chain attached, and one of its rectangular sides glows in the dark. Both Dougie and Johnny use skill and acumen when it comes to buying souvenirs. I, however, can not decide.

And so, we spend the nights and days in total Disneyland immersion. We ingrain into our young minds memories to last throughout our lives. Disneyland is a self perpetuating enigma. The experience conjures a different meaning and sense of purpose depending on one's age. As children, we are unaware we are being prepared for an eventual return to the park as parents. As parents we affectionately remember the minute ageless and timeless details of our favorite attractions. Inexplicably we remember fondly the attractions that no longer exist -- the People Mover, the Shrinking Machine, Abe Lincoln, to name a few. And as we grow older, Tomorrow Land may not seem quite as futuristic, but to our children it will still represent the hopes and dreams of time to come.

After three nights and four days, our vacation winds down. The "E" tickets are all used up. Only "A" and "B" tickets remain. We have our last supper at the Disneyland Hotel Cafe. It's mid afternoon and time to leave. We pile into the wagon once again, all ten of us. It's crowded and cramped. We fight for the window seats and more room. It's a warm sunny day. The car has no air conditioning, and the heat is stifling. The road home is long and rigorous. Some of us doze off. Curtis is busy saying, "You should have gone on the Autopia." Kookie is talking about going on Dumbo one more time. Jamie is clutching onto this two-dimensional sad face dog he calls a stuffed animal. I sit quietly and recount the events of the previous days. I, too, am weary. I reach for my shirt pocket. My flashlight and magnifying glass are safely stored and close to my body. I instantly fall asleep.